18 Feb 2021

What does the Facebook news ban in Australia mean for NZ?

From Afternoons, 1:28 pm on 18 February 2021

A battle across the Tasman between the Australian government and Facebook has come to a head with Australian Facebook users now restricted from viewing news content.

The restrictions are in response to the Australian government's proposed media laws.

RNZ Mediawatch's Hayden Donnell joined Afternoons to talk about what's going on and the implications for New Zealand.

CHIANG MAI, THAILAND - OCTOBER 21, 2014: Facebook application sign in page on smartphone and facebook logo on background.

Photo: 123RF

He tells Jesse Mulligan it’s a big moment not just for Australia, but countries around the world who are watching with interest Australia’s efforts to make Facebook and Google pay for the content shared on its platform.

“There was probably at least plans underway to implement similar legislation in other countries, so now they’re seeing the ramifications of that kind of legislation.”

The Australian government planned to institute a ‘media bargaining code’ – a new law that would force Facebook and Google to negotiate with news companies for the right to link to their content.

“They’d be asked to negotiate these fees in good faith and if they didn’t come to an agreement, it’d be sent to an arbitrator and that arbitrator would listen to the cases of the news company and Google and Facebook and decide what the appropriate amount is to pay per year.

“Facebook and Google, unsurprisingly, hated the idea of having to pay news publishers anything and they’ve been threatening to just walk away and remove news links entirely.”

However, in the past few days Google has caved into the legislation and worked out deals for annual payments to many of the major media companies in Australia. Facebook, meanwhile, has gone with the nuclear option.

“It has just shut down all news on its platform to avoid being pinged.”

In practice, this means Australians cannot share news from any reputable source on the platform.

“That includes international news, so they’re basically cut off. If I’m in Australia and I want to share a New York Times article, I can’t. It also means that users in other countries like New Zealand don’t appear to be able to share links from Australian media.”

Facebook appears to have a drawn too wide a net with these changes and, in the process, blocked a number of corporations and government agencies from sharing any posts.

“Harvey Norman was not able to publish and they’re one of the most important media entities in New Zealand with their funding, but they’re not able to publish. Government information like Covid-19 isn’t able to be published.”

With Facebook rife with misinformation and conspiracy theories, the ban for news from reputable sources doesn’t bode well for frequent users.

“It’s going to be even more of a hub for misinformation.”

It also has the effect of doubly punishing smaller publishers who weren’t able to get an agreement from Google and now find they cannot share on Facebook.

“That’s one of the flaws with this media bargaining law is that it seems to advantage these big media publishers and there’s no requirement that the money they get out of it goes into investing in news – it could just be going to shareholders.”